Butterflies, goose bumps, the jolt up your spine, ecstasy, and agony, there’s no question that love is a powerful thing. Anything with the power to awaken such a strong response in us can be downright addictive! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? We start our fascination with love at a very young age. Girls especially are drawn to stories of “true love” and the princess finding her prince. Disney’s go-to story line is cliche for a reason; it’s the happily ever after we all crave on a soul level. But like every good and perfect gift created by God, Satan has cunningly designed a very close counterfeit. Counterfeits mimic the original, and distract us enough to make us miss or at least corrupt the real deal. So what is love’s counterfeit? Lust. And a truly cunning counterfeit it is indeed. So much so, that I’ve recently started upon a personal journey of trying to tease these two things apart in my own head and heart, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Lust has so corrupted love that sometimes we think good things may actually be evil, and that evil things may actually be good. You may well wonder what the big deal is. If we’re not engaging in adultery, viewing porn, or committing assault, is the difference really that important? I didn’t used to think so, but the more I tried to figure out what was pure and what was lust, the more I realized how pervasive lust is in our culture, and I started to see a true battle unfolding. Lust has an insatiable appetite. It is the very definition of an addiction. It wants more, and then more, and then more still, and this is the slippery slope than can sadly lead to the more overt sins like the ones listed above. It twists our thoughts and our desires and instead of leading us to love, it leads us to destruction. But before I lose you completely, let me take you on a little journey through my battle zone. It may be more similar to your own than you realize.
Like many little girls, I loved happily-ever-after fairy tales. I never outgrew my love for these stories, I simply matured into a self-professed chick flick junkie! Frankly, if there isn’t at least some romantic plot line to a story, I’m not likely to be all that interested in it. My growing collection of cheesy romantic comedies sure seem like pretty harmless entertainment. No one at church would judge me for my choices in movies, well, except maybe to roll their eyes at the predictability of the plot lines. By and large, I have for years convinced myself that my media habits are perfectly acceptable. Then recently I started to see how the common themes among my media of choice were eroding the clarity of my moral compass, infiltrating my thoughts, and even impacting my marriage. It was so subtle, I didn’t even recognize the cause at first. In fact, I had actually convinced myself that viewing romantic themes was beneficial for my marriage by fueling my desire to be romantic! But just like Disney plays the same plot lines out over and over with different characters, so also does Hollywood.
Girl and Boy are in an ordinary, ho-hum relationship. Girl or Boy meet someone else. It’s love at first sight, the chemistry is electric, no ho-hum here! We find ourselves cheering for the breakup, and even excusing a little adulterous behavior, so the new couple can live happily ever after. After all, they’re soul mates, right?! They were meant for each other, so the death of the prior relationship is simply a little necessary collateral damage. Sound familiar? I am sorry to say that I own at least a dozen DVDs with this “grass is greener” theme, and many of them have at some point been on my favorite list. How about this one…Boy meets Girl, their attraction is so intense that they can’t resist the passion and quickly and casually hook up. They don’t start out with any intentions of a committed relationship, yet somehow, building on the foundation of sex and attraction alone, their relationship transforms into true love. This theme is becoming more and more prevalent and it downright terrifies me for the message it sends our young people! Last, but not least, the common thread of so many love stories is the “soul mate” theme. A soul mate is a truly mystical concept that transcends time and space and is deeply rooted in the idea of destiny. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God designs people to compliment their spouse and that He can lead us on a path that brings us together. What I don’t like about the soul mate theme, as it is often depicted in fictional stories, is the impression that when one has found their soul mate, that love and life and relationship will be blissful and easy. It also conveys the idea that the soul mate has the ability to complete the other person and fill all of their deepest needs. So when we find ourselves in a real life marriage, two broken and imperfect people that need to work at love, and who can’t fill each other’s deepest needs, we’re convinced that we missed it. This leads to frustration and disillusionment, and where do we go from there? How about eying that grass on the other side of the fence? Sure looks green from here. I love a few quotes I’ve seen floating around lately. One states, “The grass is greener where you water it.” The other says, “The grass is greener on the other side because it’s fertilized with bull sh!t.” We chuckle, but seriously, both are so very true.
Beyond the etching away over time of our belief systems, the other major danger of any addiction is desensitization. This is how it played out for me… That adrenaline rush, that tingly feeling we get from the first kiss; we all love that, don’t we? A little embarrassing to admit, but I would find myself playing videos I’ve seen a million times and fast forwarding through to all of the “good parts”. The good parts, of course, are the ones that bring about the emotional response. Those parts in a movie where the chemistry is tangible. I’m not even talking specifically about sex here. I’m talking about eyes locking for the first time, the acute awareness of fingers brushing up against each other, a slow dance, a meaningful conversation or laughter-filled moment where you can see the relationship deepening. These are all good things!!! Things God designed to bring us together and give us joy. But for me, living through media and chasing the thrill of this feeling over and over made the feeling harder to accomplish. I found myself trying to conjure the feeling when I was with my husband by replaying the movie in my head instead of being present in my reality. I’ve even realized my real relationship is pretty darn movie worthy at times, and yet somehow, I’m not always experiencing the full joy of it. The edge has been dulled and I’ve become desensitized by living too much in fantasy. Maintenance of the “thrill” becomes more and more elevated in importance and things begin to shift out of balance. The focus becomes passion and the sexual side of love instead of the steadfast friendship and partnership of love. One day I got tired of constantly doing battle with my thoughts and actually started to look seriously at what was fueling them. That’s when I realized I was being a passive pupil, allowing media and culture to instruct my worldview.
It’s frankly pretty scary and humbling to put myself out there like this, yet I feel compelled to do it because maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one feeling this tug. And maybe just maybe someone else needs to know they’re not alone (me included!). The private battlefields of our minds and hearts are lonely places. We don’t want to invite anyone else to help us in the fight because that would mean admitting the thoughts and habits we’re ashamed of. In a culture that gets the formula of love, joy, and fulfillment all wrong, we can have a hard time finding God’s way.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been careful not to list specific titles that I think cross the line, and yes, that’s intentional, and no, it’s not because I fear the backlash of calling specific titles out on their bogus messages. It’s because this battle can never be won by following a set list of dos and don’ts. It’s a heart work. What culture accepts, even Christian culture, should never be our yardstick by which we measure what is acceptable. As I said above, depending on the state of my heart, my mind could twist even the depiction of pure love into something lustful. What we need is a renewing of our mind and a surrender to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. That amazing and true love we yearn for – it’s the love God has for us, and it’s the love He wants us to have for Him and for each other. A love that is committed and unconditional. I think one of the largest errors we make is feeling conviction and confusing it with shame and guilt. This makes us defensive because we experience shame and guilt as cyclical negative emotions that lead to bondage. But conviction is very different. Conviction sheds light on our errors, so we can genuinely repent and turn from them, and this leads not to bondage, but to FREEDOM! If you feel the Holy Spirit convicting you, welcome the conviction. He’s not trying to punish you, He wants to set you free.
Whenever I feel God speak to me through a scripture I underline it in my Bible. Years ago, I underlined Psalm 101:3a, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” It is the only verse underlined on that page, so naturally if I turn to that page, it is the first thing my eyes land upon. I kid you not when I say there have been at least half a dozen times in the last several years when I have contemplated watching or reading things I knew were crossing the line and God has led me to this verse or brought it to mind. Not knowing what to read at bedtime, I’d randomly open my Bible to exactly this page and read just that one line – I will set before my eyes no vile thing. We’re not alone in our battles. God knows every thought and every struggle and He longs to give us the ammunition to win. Time and again He would show up with this gentle reminder when I knew what I should do, but really didn’t want to listen because, let’s face it, lust seems fun and enticing and temptation can be powerful. Whether I surrendered to the conviction was always my choice, and sometimes I didn’t choose wisely. Sometimes I chose to feed lust and its grip grew stronger, and my eyes captured images I later wished my mind could erase. By God’s grace, often times I chose repentance and freedom.
So as you think about what you put before your eyes and your ears, don’t look at those around you for validation about what is acceptable. Consider whether you would watch, read, or listen to this with Jesus physically sitting next to you. Would you watch or listen to it with your children if you believed they could actually understand it and that it was instructing their value system? Ask yourself how media is impacting your expectations of life and relationships. How is it impacting your contentment? Really ponder these things and let the truth of them land in your heart and mind.
John Wesley’s very wise mother once instructed him:
“Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”
Lord, you designed attraction and passion and true love for us to enjoy as part of an amazingly abundant life. Help us to recognize counterfeit when we see it, and help us to refuse to give into the temptation to accept the cheap substitute. Give us a revelation of the beauty and fullness of your original design. Convict us out of your immense love for us to draw us back to freedom. Safeguard our marriages, bond us together, and help us to love each other with a love that is true and pure, committed and unconditional. Bless us with love that endures. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If this is an area of struggle for you, I encourage you to pray that God would bring a godly friend to your mind who you can ask to be your accountability partner. Broaching the subject initially can be extremely difficult, but you’ll then find that silence was your prison. The struggles may still remain, but much of their power is lost simply by speaking them aloud to another and allowing light to be shed in the dark places. Trust me on this, it is worth the risk. I haven’t found very much literature on this topic, especially that is written for women, but I have read and been encouraged by “Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)” by Joshua Harris. The book is useful for both men and women, and specifically discusses the misconception that lust is something only men struggle with. I also highly recommend “The Fantasy Fallacy” by Shannon Ethridge, and another of her books titled “Every Woman’s Battle” (There’s a version for men as well called “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker). I hope this post helps you to feel like you’re not alone, and encourages you to take a step toward freedom. Please feel free to leave a comment, even anonymously if that’s where you’re at, and I will most certainly pray for you.